Copa Libertadores: River Plate find an edge but all square in Brazil in race for Qatar CWC slot

October 3 – River Plate have taken a huge step towards the final of the Copa Libertadores after defeating Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors 2-0 in their semi-final first leg. In the all-Brazilian semi-final, Gremio and Flamengo shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

In a repeat of last year’s hugely tumultuous final, the Argentina giants were paired together in the last four of the South American equivalent of the European Champions League. The winner of the competition will represent the continent at the Club World Cup in Qatar in December.

Not that the Argentinean clubs in contention needed more incentives. The passions of the Buenos Aires derby spilled over last year and brutally exposed the deficiencies of Argentinean football administration at multiple levels. A re-match was always going to be tense affair, but after 90 minutes the reigning Copa Libertadores champions River Plate secured what was a relatively straightforward  win over their neighbors from La Boca.

In the 7th minute Rafael Borre converted a penalty after the Brazilian referee consulted the VAR and adjudged the same player to have been fouled in the penalty area. In the second half, Ignacio Fernandez doubled the hosts’ lead after a well worked attack and a Matias Suarez assist. River were rewarded for their attacking play against the conservative visitors who belatedly went in search of a crucial away goal, but failed to find the net.

On Wednesday, Gremio welcomed high-flying Flamengo in the other semi-final of the competition. Flamengo have experienced a renaissance under Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus and top the domestic league table. His team’s compact and modern style has received a lot of plaudits, but in Gremio they faced a team with a wealth of experience in South America’s prime club competition, playing their third consecutive Libertadores semi-final.

In a swashbuckling first-half the Rio giants were all over Gremio, but couldn’t make their dominance count. VAR played its role, disallowing Everton Ribeiro’s goal and controversially denying Gabriel Barbosa’s goal by the narrowest of offside decisions.

After the interval, Gremio regained their composure, forced chances, but conceded at the other end when Flamengo’s Bruno Henrique powered home a header. Substitute Pepe however kept the Porte Alegre club in the tie, equalising in the 88th minute on the counter attack.

Flamengo, like River Plate, will be firm favorites going into the return legs in three weeks time, but their opponents know that there is still all to play for.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1571643853labto1571643853ofdlr1571643853owedi1571643853sni@o1571643853fni1571643853